Disrupting transport sooner a “no brainer”

06 Jun 2019

What are the impacts if the UK Government were more ambitious than the current ‘Road to Zero’ strategy? How much disruption is needed to meet climate and air quality goals? What are the potential implications for key actors in the transport energy system?

‘The most no-brainer of no-brainers’

Chris Stark, CEO of the Committee on Climate Change, said at the launch of the CCC’s Net Zero report that to bring forward the end of conventional new vehicles sales to around 2030 was the ‘most no-brainer of no-brainers’. Our paper confirms this.

The stated aims of the existing ‘Road to Zero’ strategy in the UK – a ‘mission’ for all new cars and vans to be ‘effectively zero emission’ by 2040 and an ‘ambition’ of 50% new ‘Ultra Low Emission Vehicles’ (ULEV) by 2030 – would only be met by including hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) in the ban. The cornerstone of the strategy, the proposed 2040 ban on internal combustion engine cars and vans, can be achieved by essentially doing what we are doing anyway (‘continuous’ change). More ambitious bans – for example, a 2030 ban that allowed only battery EVs to be sold – would require some ‘disruptive’ change within the existing transport and energy system.

How much transport disruption to meet climate and air quality goals?

We found that the ‘Road to Zero’ may neither hit the targets nor make the early gains needed for a 1.5°C trajectory, suggesting the strategy may achieve too little, too late. This confirms other work by the Committee on Climate Change and the House of Commons BEIS Committee. The largest and earliest savings were in the earlier bans that phased out hybrid EVs (HEV) and plug-in hybrid EVs by 2030. In terms of cumulative emissions for the 2017-2050 period, none of the scenarios came even close to the 1.5°C emissions budget left for cars and vans of about 650 MtCO2.

High resolution version: https://imgur.com/y7FCCWj

When adding upstream and downstream CO2 emissions from vehicle manufacture, maintenance & disposal and the supply of energy (fossil fuel production, electricity generation) the above emissions trajectories essentially shift up by between 30 and 40 MtCO2 p.a. This is largely due to upstream and downstream CO2 emissions remaining roughly constant over time as emissions from generation of electricity replace those from fossil fuel production.

In terms of local air pollution, the bans on the sale of conventional fossil fuel cars and vans explored here can accelerate reductions in air quality emissions in the medium to long term (late 2020s onwards), but not the short term. In order to reduce the health burden of road traffic pollution faster, the earlier transformation to a cleaner ULEV fleet may be more effective than existing government strategy (Road to Zero, Air Quality Strategy) that implies breaching international air quality limits may continue well into the late 2020s.

HM Treasury currently takes about £21.5 billion from cars and vans in road fuel duty. While road tax revenue streams would not change significantly in the short term, they would fall more sharply from the late 2020s onwards reflecting zero duty on electricity. By 2050, this revenue stream would virtually be wiped out in all scenarios that ban non plug-in vehicles. To compensate for this loss, road fuel duty on electricity would need to be in the order of 15 to 20 pence per kWh, depending on the scenario.

Implications for key actors

Based on existing policy most of actors of the transport and energy system will undergo continuous rather than disruptive change. This is due to the relatively slow and limited evolution of the fleet towards ‘unconventional’ low carbon fuels, continuation of fuel duty revenue streams well into the 2040s and little additional reductions in energy demand and air pollutant emissions.

However, in the earlier (2030) and stricter (in ULEV terms) pathways we can expect some disruption for technology providers, industry and business, in particular vehicle manufacturers (incl. shifts in employment), global production networks, the maintenance and repair sector as well as the oil & gas industry.

Policy levers to foster the shift

The policy instruments to foster the shift can be expected to generate some backlash. However, the stronger policy signal of a 2030 ban that includes hybrids would provide certainty to manufacturers to invest and innovate, backed up by much improved market conditions for EVs that go beyond the Road to Zero strategy.

So, any potential disruption could be managed by flanking measures such as increased consumer awareness through marketing and awareness campaigns, increased and earlier certainty of access for fleet operations, higher battery capacities, charging rates and faster off-street parking from the mid-2020s onwards.

Oil and gas sector: don’t panic

The oil and gas industry would gradually lose an important demand sector at potentially disruptive rates of change beyond 2030. However, even a 2030 ban wouldn’t affect total oil demand very much because oil is used in many other modes of transport (aviation, shipping, heavy goods vehicles, rail) and sectors of the economy.

Loss in tax revenue from the end of petrol?

The potential loss of road tax income may not matter when compared to the wider economy, as the level of excise from road fuels is similar to the annual changes in expenditure and payments discussed at budget time, and any loss could be compensated by introducing electric fuel duty once the market matures.

For other actors, particularly consumers and leasing companies, ULEVs represent continuity as “a car is still a car” in most respects as range anxiety and longer recharging times are considered short term barriers that are expected to be overcome by the mid 2020s.

  • ‘Road to Zero’ ban is too little too late: does not fit with the Paris emissions targets and budgets – and still a lot of diesels on the road in 2050
  • Mission and ambition to meet ULEV targets only met when including HEVs
  • Deep reductions in carbon emissions can be achieved by more ambitious but ‘continuous’ change, with a stronger policy signal of a 2030 ban that includes hybrid and plug-in hybrid EVs being a ‘no brainer’
  • Earlier and stricter ban expected to cause some disruption for technology providers, industry and business – but a strong policy signal would provide certainty to manufacturers to invest and innovate, backed up by much improved market conditions for EVs
Background to the research

In a paper presented at the ECEEE 2019 summer study on June 6th, Jillian Anable and I used the recently proposed bans on new conventional fossil fuel vehicles to explore existing and alternative disruptive strategies with the view to achieve near ‘zero emissions’ and much improved air quality from light duty vehicles by 2050.

Reference: Brand, C. and Anable, J. (2019) ‘Disruption’ and ‘continuity’ in transport energy systems: the case of the ban on new conventional fossil fuel vehicles. Proceedings of the ECEEE 2019 Summer Study, ISBN: 978-91-983878-5-8 (online)/ 978-91-983878-4-1 (print).

Download link:

Brand & Anable (2019) Disruption and continuity in transport

Join the debate

UKERC will be launching ‘Disrupting the UK energy system: causes, impacts and policy implications’ on the 19th June. Sign up to attend here.


Dr Christian Brand is Associate Professor at the Environmental Change Institute and Transport Studies Unit, University of Oxford, and a Co-Director of UKERC.

Jillian Anable is Chair in Transport and Energy at the Transport Studies Unit and Professor of Transport and Energy, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds, and a Co-Director of UKERC.